Paleo, gluten-free, raw, Mediterranean, or some other diet: which is best? One day nuts are the fountain of youth; the next they are the scourge of all dieters – and studies seem to back up both claims.
The truth is, if you want to have overall vibrant health, abundant energy, and an appropriate weight for years to come, you don’t need a fancy diet that is trending now. You just need to eat like the many long-living centenarians that have come before you. Here are five simple takeaways for how to eat like a centenarian.
1. Make plants the centerpiece of your meal.
A major common characteristic of centenarians around the world that helps them live so long is that they eat a plant-based diet. The centenarians I met in China eat lots of fresh vegetables, protein-rich beans, sometimes fish, and very little meat or modern processed foods.
As a result, they have much lower rates of the top diseases facing modern society, including heart disease, cancer, liver disease, and degenerative diseases.
While studying centenarians all around the world, I found that the same few extraordinary foods came up over and over again in their diets: sweet potatoes, corn, peanuts, pumpkin, walnuts, black beans, sesame seeds, shiitake mushrooms, green tea, and seaweed.
I try to always keep these longevity foods on hand – particularly all kinds of dried seaweed and dried mushrooms, which are incredibly healthy and easy to add to any soup or stew.
2. Eat five smaller meals a day.
Centenarians tend to eat smaller meals than the average portions we are used to here. They also get a healthy amount of physical activity and are part of strong communities, which gives them the satisfying feeling of connection and happiness.
As a nod to these habits, I recommend eating five smaller meals a day, which gives you a steady stream of energy throughout the day without that weighed down feeling you get after a heavy, big meal.
Think of Spanish tapas, the delightful snack-sized dishes that allow you to eat slowly and savor the food’s flavor while enjoying conversation with family and friends.
3. Eat from a simpler time: Think seasonal, local, and unprocessed.
These centenarians still have eating habits from a world of the past – a simpler world in which food was usually sourced locally, fresh, in season, and free from pesticides and other chemicals. The priority for centenarians has always been to take time to cook a healthy meal and to gather together to enjoy it, in contrast to the disconnected, thoughtless way we eat today, in which the priority is convenience and quickness. Don’t forget, not so long ago, we in the U.S. also ate mostly what grew seasonally and locally – and the unhealthy, flavor-packed foods of today were an expensive luxury, not the norm.
4. Do what works for you.
Your body is your laboratory. Notice the effect food has on you right after eating a meal. For example, nightshades may work for some, but not for others. Make adjustments as you notice foods affecting your digestion or energy level. We can slowly but surely heal ourselves when we pay attention to how our food affects us; in the process, we regain our instinctive nature to listen to our bodies, eat well, and enjoy life more.
5. Commit to gradual and lasting change.
Start where you are and make changes gradually, because then you will be more likely to create new healthy habits without feelings of deprivation. It’s never too late to change your habits. Your body wants to live to be 100 and all you have to do is get out of its way by incrementally replacing bad habits with good habits. For example, my recommendation is that you gradually cut back on sodium, sugars, gluten, dairy, and alcohol; at the same time, gradually incorporate more produce in your meals and try making them from scratch.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!